October marks the beginning of a fun-filled time of year, except if you factor in the cold and flu season. Although the peak time for flu season is usually between December and February, some infections begin as early as October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Therefore, it’s important to get the flu vaccine now rather than later, when you’re in bed miserable with a fever and missing work.
There are three options for the vaccine: intramuscular, intradermal and nasal spray, the CDC says.
Healthy children ages two through eight are encouraged to get the nasal spray this year instead, because it may work better than the other vaccine types for that age group.
It’s important to note that children as young as six months old can get the flu vaccine. Young children may also need two doses of the vaccine, since they are in a higher risk category, said the CDC.
Also, keep in mind that all 2014-2015 influenza vaccines help protect against three viruses, but not all protect against a fourth B virus known as B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
So how do you know if what you have is the flu?
Ronald Ragan, professor and dean of the School of Pharmacy at High Point University, provided his top eight symptoms of the flu via email:
1) Fever (or feeling feverish/having chills)
2) Sore throat
3) Runny or stuffy nose
5) Muscle or body aches
7) Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
8) Fatigue (tiredness)
Here are Ragan’s six suggestions for avoiding the flu, if you didn't get a flu shot before you get the virus:
1) “Avoid contact with people that are sick.”
2) “Frequent hand washing (antibacterial soap is helpful).”
3) “Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.”
4) “Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill.”
5) “Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, [and] manage your stress.”
6) “Drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.”
What if you already have the flu? Ragan provides three ways to keep the flu from spreading:
1) “Avoid close contact and stay home.”
2) “Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze.”
3) “Consider antiviral prescriptions if within 48 hours of onset of symptoms.”
So do you have a cold, flu, sinus infection or just really bad allergies?
Dr. Susan Rehm, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases said in an email that knowing the “flu F.A.C.T.S.” can help people differentiate between all the similar illnesses.
“Flu is associated with Fever, Aches, Chills, Tiredness, and Sudden Onset,” she said.
Dr. Jeannie Kenkare, the chief medical officer of PhysicianOne Urgent Care said in an email that although the flu resembles the common cold, symptoms of the flu tend to be much worse.
Symptoms of the common cold include: stuffy/runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, coughing and a sore throat.
Here are Kenkare’s suggestions for getting through the flu season:
1) “Get plenty of rest. Rest helps your body fight infection, especially while you have a fever.”
2) “Drink lots of fluids, whether it is water or clear soups. Fluids not only help prevent dehydration, but they help loosen mucus.”
3) “Gargle with warm salt water a few times a day to help relieve a sore throat.”
4) “Use saline nose drops to help loosen mucus and moisten your nose.”
5) “Stop smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which will make your symptoms worse.”
So what else should you know about the flu this season? Papatya Tankut, the vice president of pharmacy affairs for CVS Health provided three tidbits via email:
1) “It’s important to get the flu shot every year because your immunity declines over the course of the year, and the vaccine is updated annually to protect against the latest flu strains.”
2) “It takes up to two weeks for your immunity to build up after getting a flu shot, so it is best to get vaccinated as soon as you can.”
3) “For people over the age of 65, a high-dose vaccination is recommended in order to provide better protection, as there is greater risk of developing severe illness from the flu. This vaccine contains three flu strains, four times the amount of antigen – the part of the vaccine that causes the body to produce antibodies – and is intended to create a stronger immune response.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What You Should Know for the 2014-2015 Influenza Season. Web. October 1, 2014.
Ragan, Ronald. Email interview. October 1, 2014.
Rehm, Susan. Email interview. October 1, 2014.
Kenkare, Jeannie. Email interview. October 1, 2014.
Tankut, Papatya. Email interview. October 1, 2014.
Reviewed October 3, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith